This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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10.5. Degrees of Individual Manifestation

Buddhi or ‘higher intellect’ as first degree of manifestation

The Sankhya teaches us about the higher intellect, or Buddhi, also called the ‘great principle,’ Mahat. Being the first of all productions of Prakriti, it is the first ‘degree of manifestation,’ hence its place in the order of enumeration. While Buddhi is formless and pertains to the Universal order, it nonetheless belongs to manifestation, proceeding, as we have just said, directly from Prakriti. We stress this point in order to show that Buddhi as intellect should not be confused with the individual consciousness or ‘ego,’ which belongs to the next degree of manifestation. When dealing with Buddhi we have not entered into the individual domain, which is the world of form. Buddhi, then, is the principle of the individual state, as the formless must be the principle of the formal. This also means that Buddhi unifies all of the lower, individual states and illuminates them as the Spiritual Sun. It is in this way that we can say that Purusha, identical with Atma, dwells at the center of the human individuality, determining the possibilities of the living soul (jivatma).

Buddhi and the Trimurti

Because all that proceeds from Prakriti participates in the three gunas, Buddhi can be regarded as ternary and is sometimes identified with the Trimurti (Brahmā, Shiva, Vishnu):

Mahat [Buddhi] is conceived distinctly as three Gods, through the influence of the three gunas, being one single manifestation [murti] in three Gods. In the universal order, it is the Divinity [not as Ishvara but as Trimurti]; but regarded distributively it belongs to individual beings [not itself being individualized, but communicating to them the possibility of participating in the divine attributes].[1]

One might here note the similarity between Buddhi and the Logos of the Christian tradition.

Buddhi can be envisioned as the intermediary between the Personality, which is really Atma, and the individuality, which then produces, as a result of its intersection with the particular domain and its conditions, the individual consciousness (ahankara) which is inherent in each ‘living soul’ (jivatma).

[1] Matsya-Purana.

Ahankara or the individual consciousness

Ahankara is Buddhi particularized, and so we have entered the individual domain at its highest level. This justifies the place of  ahankara as the third principle enumerated by Sankhya. Its meaning is, literally, ‘that which makes the me’, and can be understood as that which gives rise to the notion of the ‘ego,’ which of course could only come about once the Universal domain has been left behind. Its function is to create the ‘individual conviction’ (abhimana) which distinguishes for the being between idam, ‘this,’ and aham, ‘me,’ creating the relative opposition between things, both in an internal (abhyantara) and external (bahya) sense. In Western terminology this is the point where the opposition of ‘subject’ and ‘object’ comes to exist, although it never gains in Eastern thought the importance given to it in the West, since it is viewed for the relative and thus artificial opposition that it is.

Subtle and gross elements

After ahankara the Sankhya describes five tanmatras or ‘subtle elementary determinations.’ These belong to the group described as ‘productive productions’ and are the principles of the five bhutas or sensible elements. The world tanmatra means ‘assignment.’ These subtle elements are called by the names of sensible qualities, even though they are themselves imperceptible, their qualities therefore becoming manifest through the bhutas. They are as follows: shabda (auditive), sparsha (tangible), rupa (visible), rasa (sapid), and gandha (olfactory). The gross elements are, in an order corresponding the that given for the tanmatras: Akasha (Ether), Vayu (Air), Tejas (Fire), Ap (Water), and Prithvi (Earth). From these all of corporeal manifestation is formed. The tanmatras and bhutas have a relationship like that of substance to essence.

The ten external faculties of action and sensation

Between the tanmatras and bhutas there are eleven individual faculties proceeding directly from ahandkara. These are manas, the ‘inward sense’ or mental faculty, along with five faculties of sensation (knowledge) and five faculties of action. Because we are only just now entering properly into the individual order, we must refer individual thought primarily to manas and not to Buddhi, the transcendent intellect, since it operates beyond form. It is manas that ties the other ten faculties together, acting as connection to ahankara. For a description of the developments of the individual faculties, we may refer to the Brahma-Sutras:

The intellect, the inward sense, and also the faculties of sensation and action, are developed [in manifestation] and reabsorbed [into the unmanifested] in a similar sequence [except that reabsorption proceeds in an inverse order to that of development], and this sequence always follows that of the elements from which these faculties proceed as regards their constitution [which, depending upon whether the indriyas are considered in the subtle or the gross state, could be taken as  either faculties or organs; and here we must except the intellect, which is developed in the formless order prior to the determination of any formal or properly individual principle]. As to Purusha [or Atma], its emanation [insofar as it is regarded as the personality of a being] is not a birth [even in the widest meaning of the word], neither is it a production [implying a starting-point for its actual existence, as is the case for everything that proceeds from Prakriti]. One cannot in fact assign to it any limitation [by any particular condition of existence], since, being identified with the Supreme Brahma, it partakes of its infinite essence [implying the possession of the divine attributes, at least virtually and even actually insofar as this participation is effectively realized in the Supreme Identity, not to speak of all that lies beyond any attribution whatsoever, since here we are contemplating the Supreme Brahma, which is nirguna, and not merely Brahma as saguna, that is to say Ishvara].[1] It is active, but only in principle [therefore ‘actionless,’ just as Aristotle insisted that the prime mover of all things be motionless, which is essentially to say that the principle of action is actionless], for this activity [kartritva] is not essential to it nor inherent in it, but is simply eventual and contingent [merely relative to its states of manifestation]. As the carpenter, grasping in his hand his axe and his other tools and then laying them aside, enjoys tranquility and repose, so this Atma in its union with its instruments [by means of which its prinicipial faculties are expressed and developed in each of its states of manifestation, and which are thus nothing but the manifestations of these factulties with their respective organs], is active [although this activity in no way affects its inmost nature], and, in relinquishing them, enjoys repose and tranquillity [in the ‘inaction’ from which, in itself, it never departed].[2]

The various faculties of sensation and action [indicated by the word prana in a secondary acceptation] are eleven in number: five of sensation [buddhindriyas, which indicates the means or instruments of knowledge in their particular spheres], five of action [karmendriyas], and the inward sense [manas]. Where a greater number [thirteen] is given, the term indriya is employed in its widest and most comprehensive sense, distinguishing within manas, by reason of the plurality of its functions, the intellect [not in itself as transcendent but as a particular determination relative to the individual], the individual consciousness [ahankara, from which manas cannot be separated], and the inward sense properly so called [what the Scholastic philosophers called sensorium commune]. Where a lesser number [usually seven] is given, the same term is applied in a more restricted manner: thus, seven sensible organs are specified, the two eyes, the two ears, the two nostrils and the mouth or tongue [so that, in this case, we are dealing merely with the seven opening or orifices of the head]. The eleven faculties mentioned above [although indicated collectively by the term prana] are not [as are the five vayus of which we shall speak later] simple modifications of the mukhya-prana or principal vital act [respiration, with the assimilation ensuing from it], but distinct principles [from the special point of view of human individuality].[3]

The above usage of the term prana is not in its most common acceptation, which refers to ‘vital breath.’ Instead here, as is the case in other Vedic texts, it describes something that is identified with Brahma itself, as when it is said that in deep sleep all of the faculties are reabsorbed into prana, since it is also said that ‘while a man sleeps without dreaming, his spiritual principle is one with Brahma.[4] This is also, coincidentally, which is svapiti, ‘he sleeps,’ can be interpreted (by the science of Nirukta rather than simple etymological derivation) as swam apito bhavati, ‘he has entered into his own [Self].’[5]

[1] We remark here that the possession of divine attributes, that is to say ‘in the image and likeness’ of God, is called in Sanskrti aishwarya and constitutes a real ‘connaturality’ with Ishvara.

[2] Brahma-Sutras, II.3.14-17 and 33-40.

[3] Brahma-Sutras, II.4.1-7.

[4] Commentary of Shankaracharya on the Brahma-Sutras, III.2.7.

[5] Chhandogya Upanishad, VI.8.1.

The indryas or faculties of sensation and action

The term indrya is used to refer to the external faculties and really means ‘power.’ It is often used in an extended way to refer to both the factulty and the bodily organ to which it corresponds, which combine to form a single instrument either of knowledge or action, hence the division of buddhindriyas and karmendriyas. The five instruments of sensation (knowledge) are: the ears or hearing (shrotra), the skin or sense of touch (tvach), the eyes or sight (chakshus), the tongue or sense of taste (rasana), the nose or sense of smell (ghrana). Note that the order given is not arbitrary, but corresponds to the order of their development and that of the bhutas to which they correspond. The five instruments of action are: the organs of excretion (payu), the generative organs (upastha), the hands (pani), the feet (pada), and lastly the voice or organ of speech (vach, identical with the Latin vox).


Finally we arrive at manas, which is regarded as the eleventh faculty and which fulfills a double fucnction in relation to both perception and action, and participating in a way in the properties of both, and these it centralizes within itself.[1] Considered in its more comprehensive sense, which is to say as three faculties in one, manas completes the thirteen instruments of knowledge in the individual sphere (both the faculties of action and and sensation are ordered toward knowledge).

[1] Manava-Dharma-Shastra, II.89-92.

The collaboration of the indriyas, ahankara, and transference through Buddhi

Considered in this way as thirteen, the three encompassed by manas are ‘internal,’ described as three ‘sentinels,’ while the other ten indriyas are external, described as so many ‘gates.’ This representation is also descriptively accurate since the faculties of manas participate in consciousness, hence ‘sentinel,’ while the external faculties or ‘gates’ do not. Moreover, these ‘gates’ being ‘incoming’ (sensation) and ‘outgoing’ (action) in nature. This last difference can be viewed as two successive and complementary phases of a process, the first centripetal and the second centrifugal. In between the two phases, the inward sense (manas) examines, and the consciousness (ahankara) assimilates the perception into the ego and makes the individual application. After these, it remains for Buddhi, the pure intellect, to transpose the data of the preceding faculties into the Universal order.

Five koshas or ‘envelopes’ of the Self

The living soul, considered as a manifestation of Purusha, is described as clothing itself in a series of koshas or ‘envelopes’ which represent its phases of manifestation. While the last of the phases is corporeal, one should guard against the tendency to conceive of these envelopes as so many ‘bodies,’ since they are not, aside from last which we have just mentioned, conditioned by space. Moreover, since these envelopes really convey the relationship of Atma with this or that state of manifestation, and it should be remembered that Atma cannot itself be contained within them in any way.

The first envelope is anandamaya-kosha. The suffix maya means ‘made of,’ and the term to which it is joined, Ananda, signifying ‘beatitude.’ Thus, the first envelope is called ‘made of Beatitude,’ which is appropriate because it refers to Atma in its plenitude. Here we are speaking of the Self as superior to conditioned existence, undifferentiated and situated at the level of pure Being, and this is why it is regarded as characteristic of Ishvara, whereas the remaining four envelopes are characteristic of jivatma. In other words, with anandamaya we are in the formless order and which, in relation to formal manifestation, represents the ‘causal form’ behind that which will be manifested in the following stages.

The second envelope is vijnanamaya-kosha. It is composed of the five elementary essences or ‘subtle elements’ (tanmatras) and is formed by the directly reflected Light of universal Knowledge, hence the name Jnana (Knowledge) with the participle vi which specifies the distinctive mode. This reflected arises from the intersection of Buddhi and the principal faculties of perception, which again correspond to the elements just mentioned in the subtle state.

Next comes manomaya-kosha, which is where the subtle constituents of the previous envelope are joined to maya, the inward sense. To situate it more precisely in terms of what we have already outlined above, we might say that this envelope is the result of union between ahankara and manas. In this way, manomaya brings into play the mental consciousness or thinking faculty of the individual being, which is to say we are now in situated firmly in the formal order, although not yet in the bodily order.

The fourth envelope is named pranamaya-kosha, so called because it comprises the faculties proceeding from prana (the vital breath). These faculties include those of sensation and action, which existed in principle in the two preceding stages where the tanmatras had already been brought into play; but more importantly these include five vayus, which are called ‘vital functions’ and are in fact the modalities of prana. Having already enumerated the faculties of sensation and action, we will now comment separately on the vayus.

The general meaning of the word vayu is air or wind, and this is appropriate since they are modalities of the vital breath (prana), while we should also insist that since we are still in the subtle order these descriptions should not be taken literally. They can be enumerated as follows: 1) aspiration (prana in the strict sense), which is to say respiration as ascending in its initial phase, attracting the still unindividualized elements of the cosmic environment, causing them to participate, by assimilation, in the individual consciousness; 2) inspiration (apana), considered as descending in a succeeding phase, whereby the elements just attracted penetrate the individuality; 3) third, we come to a phase intermediate between the two preceeding, called vyana, which consists in all the resultant reactions of the intermingling between the elements and the individuality, which can be likened to the circulation of the blood as it relates to corporeal respiration; 4) expiration (udana), the projection of the breath, transformed, beyond the limits of the individuality and into the sphere of possibilities of the extended individuality; 5) digestion or substantial assimilation (samana), by which the elements previously absorbed become an integral part of the individuality.[1] Having outlined these functions, we should remind the reader that while these all correspond to physiological functions, these last are simply their most external aspect and one should not in any way consider the vayus as belonging exclusively, or, for that matter, even predominantly, to the physiological order.

The first envelope pertained to the unconditioned Self, beyond manifestation, whether formal or formless. The next three envelopes combine to form the subtle form (called sukshma-sharira or linga-sharira). The last alone can be referred to gross manifestation. It is called annamaya-kosha, referring to the alimentary envelope. It makes up the gross form (sthula-kosha) and corresponds to the most external mode of manifestation. It is the only envelope that is ‘bodily’ and which is therefore composed by the bhutas or sensible elements. Within this envelope the gross elements received in nutriment are combined, the finer parts secreted into the circulation, the coarser parts excreted or rejected, apart of course from those deposited in the bones. Earthy substances become the flesh, watery substances, the blood, and igneous substances, the fact, the marrow, and the nervous system (phosphoric matter).[2]

[1] Brahma-Sutras II.4.8-13. See also: Chhandogya Upanishad, V.19-23 and Maitri Upanishad, II.6.

[2] Brahma-Sutras, II.4.21. Also, Chhandogya Upanishad, VI.5.1-3.

All organic beings possess these eleven faculties

All organic beings, that is to say all living bodies, possess the eleven individual faculties, albeit in a greater or lesser degree of development, and in each these faculties are manifested in the organism by the eleven corresponding organs (avayavas, a name that is also applied to the subtle state). According to Shankaracharya, these beings can be divided into three classes according to their mode of reproduction. These are: 1) the viviparous, such as man and other mammals; 2) the oviparous, such as birds, reptiles, fish, and insects; 3) finally, the germiniparous, a group which includes both the lower animals and plants.[1] By lower animals it is meant primarily the mobile forms of life born in the water, while the latter refers chiefly to immobile forms born in the earth, although there are other passages in the Veda which elaborate on these ideas in minor ways.[2]

[1] Commentary on the Brahma-Sutras, III.1.20 and 21.

[2] See: Chhandogya Upanishad, I.1.2, V.6.2, VI.3.1, and VII.4.2; Aitareya Upanishad, V.3. In the latter, a fourth category of beings is mentioned, those born of damp heat, but this can be attached to the seed-born class already considered.